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Stance on re-using personal statements?


gnossienne n.3
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After applying to MA programs last year with success but finding myself unable to attend for financial reasons, I am applying again. I'll be applying to some of the same institutions that accepted me last year, as well as a few others, including a few that previously rejected or waitlisted me. My two top choice MA programs, which accepted me last application cycle, told me that while they can't let me simply defer, I can apply again and they will recommend readmission on the basis of having admitted me previously.

My question is essentially this: can I reuse my statements of purpose from last year, simply updated with what little has changed since last year? To what extent is recycling phrases, paragraphs, etc. acceptable? Should I write entirely new statements for all of the institutions I have applied to before regardless of my result last application cycle, repeating no material directly, so that I don't seem disinterested? I doubt that anyone is going to hold my statements up side by side, but on the off chance the same person reads my application this year, it's possible that reusing statements might not give the best impression. So: thoughts?

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I don't mean to sound harsh but do you think AdComms remember your SoPs? 

You should update them in order to show sensitivity to the changes in your life (in theory you are one year more intellectually mature) and in theirs (if any. Eg: any major changes school/department-wise?). Remember that the fact that one SoP worked a year ago doesn't mean it will work again: AdComms change, the application pool is different, etc. But I would certainly recycle properly. Do you have a similar project? If so, paraphrase it somehow. Also, do you think of mentioning that you applied and were accepted? 

 

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55 minutes ago, AP said:

I don't mean to sound harsh but do you think AdComms remember your SoPs? 

You should update them in order to show sensitivity to the changes in your life (in theory you are one year more intellectually mature) and in theirs (if any. Eg: any major changes school/department-wise?). Remember that the fact that one SoP worked a year ago doesn't mean it will work again: AdComms change, the application pool is different, etc. But I would certainly recycle properly. Do you have a similar project? If so, paraphrase it somehow. Also, do you think of mentioning that you applied and were accepted? 

 

Not harsh at all! I really don't think anyone will remember SoPs a year on. It just strikes me as lazy somehow, which may be an irrational feeling. I would so love to reuse my statements, but it feels like cheating? Idk.

I have some edits I'm planning to make across the board. I will be adding how I've spent the last year learning to read German and preparing for competency exams in Latin, for example, and of course where applicable noting that I was previously accepted/waitlisted. It's really a matter of whether I simply change some things (like adjusting for department changes, new faculty contacts, etc.) or if I want to, as you say, paraphrase the entire statement so that it's something "new". I'm treating my previous SoPs as drafts for this year and sending them to various friends and mentors for feedback, so it's likely that they'll change somewhat. I just have no real sense of whether rewriting my SoPs completely is a waste of my time, when very little has changed since I wrote the last ones and I'm not sure how much better they're going to get.

Edited by gnossienne n.3
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Oh, ok.

Well, I wouldn't use exactly the same SoPs. Trying to paraphrase parts of them is a good idea because it shows you gave some thought to the application cycle. But I would start from scratch. 

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I would also advise at least a thorough refresh on the statement(s). Starting from scratch may be a good tactic, but a renovation of the statement(s) (through whatever method) should be the goal. We know that your SOPs from last year were good enough to get you admitted (with that year's admissions committee, in that year's applicant pool), but admission itself isn't really the point, is it? You want to get admission with adequate funding, which would suggest the wisdom of updating your statement(s) in toto, rather than just adding several sentences about what you did this year.

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I'm sure it varies from school to school and year to year, but I seriously doubt anyone would remember. Even if it 'sounded' familiar (they all sort of run together) the person reading would never take the time to dig through the dozens (hundreds) of past applications. Students are accepted largely on the basis of other applicants, especially at the MA level. Because it's unlikely that the same exact people are all applying this season, your application will blend in or stand out in new ways. You're overthinking it. You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: fit is key. At the MA level, however, fit can be very mysterious. I would suggest you 1) reach out to faculty and ask about how to improve your application and 2) talk with the current grad (MA) students. The latter are far more likely to give you the real scoop (they are usually flattered you emailed them).

good luck

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20 hours ago, AP said:

I don't mean to sound harsh but do you think AdComms remember your SoPs? 

You should update them in order to show sensitivity to the changes in your life (in theory you are one year more intellectually mature) and in theirs (if any. Eg: any major changes school/department-wise?). Remember that the fact that one SoP worked a year ago doesn't mean it will work again: AdComms change, the application pool is different, etc. But I would certainly recycle properly. Do you have a similar project? If so, paraphrase it somehow. Also, do you think of mentioning that you applied and were accepted? 

 

Grad schools, at least some of them, keep materials from earlier applications. How do I know this? I emailed one grad school I had applied to as an undergrad for their PhD program because on my current application a  LOR was not showing. The response I received back stated that they had not received the LOR, but not to worry because they had all of the application materials from the previous application, two years before. Eventually, they did receive the LOR before the deadline, but I was left to wonder whether they used my newly submitted materials or the old ones at that point. 

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55 minutes ago, cowgirlsdontcry said:

Grad schools, at least some of them, keep materials from earlier applications. How do I know this? I emailed one grad school I had applied to as an undergrad for their PhD program because on my current application a  LOR was not showing. The response I received back stated that they had not received the LOR, but not to worry because they had all of the application materials from the previous application, two years before. Eventually, they did receive the LOR before the deadline, but I was left to wonder whether they used my newly submitted materials or the old ones at that point. 

Yes, but LORs and SOPs are different things. We are responsible for SOPs, so if our advisors give the same LOR is up to them. 

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4 hours ago, sacklunch said:

I'm sure it varies from school to school and year to year, but I seriously doubt anyone would remember. Even if it 'sounded' familiar (they all sort of run together) the person reading would never take the time to dig through the dozens (hundreds) of past applications. Students are accepted largely on the basis of other applicants, especially at the MA level. Because it's unlikely that the same exact people are all applying this season, your application will blend in or stand out in new ways. You're overthinking it. You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: fit is key. At the MA level, however, fit can be very mysterious. I would suggest you 1) reach out to faculty and ask about how to improve your application and 2) talk with the current grad (MA) students. The latter are far more likely to give you the real scoop (they are usually flattered you emailed them).

good luck

Just to clarify: I'm applying for both MA and PhD programs, with a strong preference for PhD. I was accepted to my top two MA programs and waitlisted at my top choice PhD program (and strongly encouraged to apply again). Fit with the program and faculty is one of the most important factors for me and something I emphasize in my application materials.

I know I'm overthinking it re: whether anyone is going to dredge up my old applications. Whether I write entirely new statements of purpose or reuse parts of my old ones, however, is a matter of the amount of time I have to devote to writing new statements and how exhausting I find writing that particular genre. As @hats and @AP recommended, I think I'm going to at least do a thorough refresh. And get going on it this weekend, rather than dithering on this any longer! Thanks for the advice, everyone. :)

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2 hours ago, AP said:

Yes, but LORs and SOPs are different things. We are responsible for SOPs, so if our advisors give the same LOR is up to them. 

You didn't read what I wrote. When I asked about a missing LOR, they told me not to worry because they had all of the materials from my previous application. It had nothing to do with the recommenders submitting the same LOR as I used different recommenders. It means they had my previous SOP and WS, as well. They had everything that was submitted from two years previously. 

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1 hour ago, Concordia said:

It sounds as though they are going to recommend admittance based on last year's invitation, no?  How much more will they need to see?

Right. One of those programs also has a deadline in mid-October, so if I felt like only adjusting my statements from last year was enough, it would save me a lot of time, and I could apply today if I put my mind to it. I've decided to go ahead and revise my statements pretty thoroughly before applying anywhere, including the places that have offered me that assurance. This means that I'll be saving time down the line with the other applications (including where I was waitlisted) rather than saving that time upfront.

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I would start from scratch with copies of prior SOPs at hand. I would assume that readers would remember my previous effort and are expecting improvement. Just because.

Good enough last year doesn't mean good enough this year if the bar has been raised.

 

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My situation is a bit different than yours, but I would suggest, given your situation, to at least do a few editing rounds again with the SoPs you submitted last time (you might have missed something the first time or want to update it, like you mentioned, to reflect some of your changes over the last year). For me, I believe my SoP was the weakest element of my apps last year, so I've chosen to start from scratch.

Best of luck!

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I would re-write the statements, only to see how much you have grown intellectually and as a writer.  I have had to re-write my dissertation proposals multiple times from scratch and the difference is huge.

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On 9/8/2017 at 3:55 PM, cowgirlsdontcry said:

You didn't read what I wrote. When I asked about a missing LOR, they told me not to worry because they had all of the materials from my previous application. It had nothing to do with the recommenders submitting the same LOR as I used different recommenders. It means they had my previous SOP and WS, as well. They had everything that was submitted from two years previously. 

Maybe I didn't express myself properly. They had your materials. You were missing a LOR. They could go back to the LOR while they waited. OP is asking about reusing SOP. I'm not arguing they saved their SOP. I'm saying it is a different document for the AdComm to revise. You didn't want to judge your PhD admittance with the previous one, right?

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Many are overthinking the process. In most cases, faculty are given prepackaged applications, usually related to their area of study (so the faculty heading the track for, say, ancient Judaism, receive the forms for those applicants). The faculty rarely store applications from past years. Yes, it's also true that the adcoms have them on file; and yes, if a faculty member wanted to see the past applications, they certainly could get them. But would they? It's unlikely. Will they remember you? If you almost made the cut from the year before, maybe. But it's unlikely that they are going to go dig out your old materials and sit there comparing 'how you've grown.' Who gets an acceptance is, in part, based on the competition, which will have changed from the year before. But it's also based on internal departmental politics (such and such got a student last year, this year they don't). We don't like to admit how important these factors are because we have no way of controlling them. On the other hand, you certainly stand a higher chance of being admitted if you improve your application (based upon, however, that mysterious 'fit'). 

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